Ghost Stories

Ghost Stories

I was fortunate to have known noted Nebraska author and storyteller Duane Hutchinson.  On one occasion I mentioned some of my family’s tales of the supernatural, and he encouraged me to write them down.  I did and shared them with him, prefacing them with these remarks:

In compiling these tales I have grown increasingly aware that, while I give you my word that they are true to the best of my knowledge, they strain the bounds of credibility in both their content and their number.  It seems odd that so many bizarre episodes would have taken place in one family over the course of little more than a century (most have occurred since the 1930’s).  It is of course up to you to decide whether or not these stories ring true, but let me assure you that no one in my family has been (or is now) prone to inventing tales of any sort, let alone tales such as these.  I would add that my father has enjoyed a life-long reputation for honesty.  (He once lamented his honesty to me, saying that it has led him to assume that everyone else is honest also, an assumption that has not proven beneficial in business dealings.)

The fact that such things have happened has made subsequent happenings more easily accepted, but has never led anyone in the family except myself to a genuine belief in the supernatural.  After reviewing these tales, my father commented that he hadn’t realized so many things had happened.  He confessed to never having given these things much thought once the initial surprise of an event had worn off, an attitude I would say was shared by the entire family (except for the two uncles in the first story). 

I would point out another unusual aspect of these stories: in many instances the events were witnessed by more than one person, sometimes another family member, sometimes not.  On more than one occasion, several witnesses were present.  The event involving the white horses was witnessed by a retired English professor from UNK.  I hope one day to persuade him to write down his recollections of that night. 

Please make of these stories what you will.  I do not expect you to include them in a book; rather, I simply hope you find them interesting.  Please feel free to share them should the occasion arise.

I did not hear back and soon forgot all about this.  Many months later, though, I received four copies of what would prove Duane’s final book, A Storyteller’s Ghost Stories: Book Four, (published by Foundation Books in Lincoln) with my introductory statement and stories leading off the collection.  These stories appear below:

Family Stories

My family has a rich history of experiences involving the paranormal.  The first that I am aware of occurred sometime in the late 1870s when they were still living in Illinois.  My great-grandmother’s youngest sister was raised by two bachelor uncles who by all accounts loved her very much.  They had not, however, prepared her for the onset of puberty, and she became understandably alarmed at the appearance of her first menses.  In an attempt to stop the bleeding, she immersed herself in the cold waters of a nearby creek.  She contracted pneumonia as a result and died some time later.  Her uncles were heartbroken; all the more so since the events leading to her death could have been easily avoided.  This left them in a deep state of mourning.  One evening several months later  while returning home after having visited my great-grandmother and her family, the spirit of their niece appeared in the road in front of them.  She assured them that she was well and happy, and asked them to stop mourning.  She then vanished into the darkness.  They turned the buggy around and headed back to the farm, recounting what had just occurred.  From that time on they were changed men.

My grandmother’s first encounter with the inexplicable occurred in her early teen years while attending a family gathering on a farm north of Boone, Nebraska.  She and a cousin slipped away and wandered down to the Beaver Creek.  They were surprised to hear the sounds of a piano and women singing.  They investigated and found a platform built on the lower branches of a large cottonwood tree.  An unknown man and his adult daughters were on this platform, the daughters singing while the father played a small piano.  They welcomed my grandmother and her cousin to join them in the tree.  There they spent a pleasant afternoon listening to the music.  As evening came on, the girls thanked the strangers and returned to the farm house.  Here they told the rest of the family about their unusual afternoon.  No one would believe them.  Finally, they led a party back to the creek.  They found the tree, but there was no sign of the strangers, let alone a platform and a piano.  My grandmother remembered this vividly, insisting to the end of her life (at age 95) that it really was true.

My grandmother’s next unusual experience happened many years later, sometime in the mid-1930’s.  She was riding in a car driven by a close friend.  It was autumn, about 5 in the afternoon.  My grandmother said they approached an intersection with children playing in piles of leaves nearby.  A tall slender man wearing a long black coat and an unusual black hat strode down the sidewalk, stepping into the street in front of the car.  My grandmother warned her friend not to hit the man, her friend replying that she saw him.  At that moment, the man vanished into a small whirlwind.  My grandmother remembered how it picked up the surrounding leaves and how they sparkled as they spun about in the late afternoon sunlight.  Both women were quite shaken by the experience.

Later in life my grandmother had several unexplainable things happen in her home in Albion. One day she asked me to check an upstairs bedroom.  She said she had heard a loud crash the night before and was afraid the plaster had fallen.  I went up with her to find a large book in the center of the floor.  Its spine was broken, apparently from the fall.  How it managed to fall there, however, we never could figure out.  The book, an old math text, had long been packed in a crate in the attic.  Not long after this I pulled a chair from the table only to find a scholarship certificate my father had received in 1945 on the seat.  This had resided for decades at the bottom of a dresser drawer.  I checked the other chairs at the table, and found a canceled check dated 20 years earlier lying on a second chair.

My grandfather scoffed at talk of the supernatural, but even he had to reconsider one morning as he sat reading while my grandmother made coffee.  He heard the front door open.  Without looking up, he spoke a few words of greeting, assuming it was a family member.  A woman’s voice replied in an expected fashion.  Overhearing this brief conversation, my grandmother, still in her robe and slippers, rushed to see who was there.  To both my grandparents’ surprise, the front door was still locked.  On rare occasions, my grandfather also reported being tapped sharply on his shoulder.  This occurred maybe once a decade for 30 or 40 years.  On another occasion, again while he sat reading, he said he felt a woman squeeze between his chair and the couch.  He said he distinctly felt her hip brush against his elbow.  He looked up in surprise only to find no one there.

My grandfather passed away just before his 91st birthday.  Two years later, to the day, my grandmother was stricken with pneumonia.  Within hours she was near death.  She was in a nursing home, but her mental faculties were still sharp.  The nurses sat with her, asking if they should call the family.  She said no, it was too late at night.  She then began to converse with unseen family members, people who had passed on long before.  After several hours, she again addressed a nurse, saying quite calmly and rationally that now that she had had the opportunity to speak with her deceased relatives, it was time to tell her living relatives goodbye.  As soon as we were told of her condition, we requested she be moved to the hospital.  Here we found her struggling to breathe, despite having an oxygen mask.  She didn’t have her dentures and understanding her labored speech proved difficult.  When she saw me, she looked at me with piercing eyes, stating at least a dozen times, “I died last night…”  When she was sure I understood, she fell quiet, passing away in my arms, the rest of her family standing near.  It was not until later that I learned of her conversations of the night before; several nurses took me aside at different times to relate the events.  Each told the same story, and each told me that they believed she was indeed conversing with her deceased loved-ones.  They said that they had witnessed people pass away many times, but never had they seen anything like this.  They said my grandmother was absolutely rational at all times, despite her deteriorating condition.  I believe it changed their lives; I know it did mine.

My mother’s uncle had an unnerving experience that no one knew of until after his death.  His daughter was reading his diaries when she found his account of his father’s death.  He wrote, “And at night I slept downstairs and spent a sleepless night in a room that was so recently vacated by its rightful owner [his father].  The clock stopped and a sort of terror came over me.  I started it – but it persisted in stopping.  Early morning moon shed eerie light from the snow.  Never spent a longer night.” 

My father has had a number of odd things happen in his life.  The first he remembers goes back to his childhood when he would occasionally encounter a yellow cat in the house.  Only his family didn’t have a yellow cat, and no one else ever saw it.  After serving in the Navy in World War II he returned to Albion where he lived with his parents for several years.  In those days the house had two sets of outer windows; screens that were put on each spring and heavy glass storm windows that were put up in the fall.  These storm windows had three holes, about an inch and a half in diameter, located at the bottom of the window frame.  A small wooden cover could be raised on nicer days to let fresh air in.  One night he went upstairs to bed; the weather had been warm enough that day to justify opening the cover but by night had cooled considerably.  Before getting into bed he closed this cover.  But as he climbed into bed, he noticed a cold breeze.  He turned the light back on and saw that the cover was once again open.  He got up and closed it again.  He turned out the light and climbed back into bed only to find that he could not stretch out his legs because something heavy was on the foot of the bed.  He said he was angry that he was being prevented from going to bed and as a result did something he never would have been brave enough to do otherwise; he pounced on whatever was sitting on his bed.  To his astonishment there was nothing there.  He sat up in a cold sweat and turned on the light.  At that moment something tapped him sharply on top of his head.  (The tap of course recalls his father’s experiences of being tapped occasionally on the shoulder.)

On another occasion my father’s dog, very old and nearly deaf, had been sleeping on a rug near the foot of my father’s bed.  The dog awoke and began to growl and stare intensely at something in the hall.  My father got up and looked to see what could possibly be there.  He saw nothing.  In time, the dog quieted down and finally went back to sleep.  My father believes the dog was protecting him against something that the dog could sense but he couldn’t.

One summer evening my father was leaving the house to attend a softball game.  As he headed towards the door, a screen door with a heavy spring, it began to slowly open.  As my father stood before it dumfounded, the door opened completely.  It remained open for a few moments and then slowly swung shut.  I asked if a strong gust of wind could have been responsible but he said the wind hadn’t been blowing, and even if it had, the door, being a screen, would not have been affected.  Only the strongest wind will blow a screen door open, and it will not do so slowly.  My father said he left through the back door.

On another occasion while my grandparents were away, he said he was awakened by a horrendous crash.  He said it sounded like a boxcar full of aluminum garbage cans had been dropped on the deck of an aircraft carrier.  He said he decided that the cat must have knocked something over in the basement.  He had started back to sleep, figuring to clean up the mess in the morning, when he remembered that the cat had died and he was alone.  He said he didn’t sleep anymore that night.  In the morning he inspected the whole house but found absolutely nothing out of place.

In an experience somewhat reminiscent of my uncle’s encounter with a strange terror, my father recalls spending a night alone by the Beaver Creek, keeping an eye on an irrigation pump.  The tractor running the pump didn’t have safety switches and he was reluctant to leave it unattended.  He said everything was fine until about 3 am.  Then he was gripped by an inexplicable terror.  He felt there was something across the creek, in a large wooded area.  He didn’t know what it was, but he felt strongly that he had to get away from there.  He said it was all he could do to go to the tractor and shut it down (he had to let it cool for a few minutes after disengaging the pump).  As soon as the tractor was shut off he ran to the car and left as quickly as he could.  He said it was more terrifying, what ever it was, than anything he had experienced in the war, including the night that Japanese guerrillas shot the sentry next to him.

His most extraordinary experience occurred one hot August night, sometime in the 1950’s.  He and a friend decided to take a ride in the country to “try to stir up a breeze.”  They bought some beer and had just opened the first bottles when, a few miles east of Albion, they topped a hill and saw an unbelievable site at the bottom.  The road crossed a small dry creek and there, standing on either side of the bridge like bizarre book-ends, were two gigantic white horses facing one another.  My father said they looked exactly like normal horses, except that they were several times larger.  He said as the car approached the bridge, the horses began to rise into the air in perfect union.  At this point his friend stomped on the accelerator and they sped past the horses into the night.  Several miles later the car slowed and my father asked, “Did you see what I saw. . . ?”  His friend replied “Yes” and again floorboarded the accelerator.  (This friend is a retired English professor; I hope to one day get his account of this incredible story.)

My father’s next encounter with the inexplicable came several years later, shortly after I was born.  He was driving my mother’s Austin, a small imported car, home from a neighboring town.  He started to pass an old grain truck when, without signaling, the truck turned left in front of him.  He swerved to avoid the truck and lost control of the car.  It headed into the ditch and towards a utility pole at a high rate of speed.  He said that there was nothing he could do; he said his last feeling was one of anger, anger that he wouldn’t be there as I grew up.  At that moment the front end of the car was literally lifted from the ground and moved to the side.  As a result, he missed the pole by a few feet, finally regaining control and stopping the car.  He got out and the truck driver came running towards him in disbelief.  The truck driver asked, “How in the world did you do that!?  I thought you were going to be killed when I saw what was happening!”  My father said he tried to appear nonchalant and take credit for possessing great driving skills, but he said in his heart he knew without a doubt that something unknown had intervened and saved his life.

Since then my father’s paranormal experiences have diminished considerably, but he still occasionally has odd things happen to him.  Once he turned on the Mr. Coffee machine only to return to find coffee all over the floor.  To his amazement, the hole in the coffee basket was gone.  There was absolutely no indication that there had ever been a hole, no indication of melting or anything else was evident.  Finally he drilled a new hole and made some more coffee. Every now and then he will tell me of something odd that has happened to him, usually a glimpse of movement or a strange light.  Occasionally my mother sees them also.

Personal Experiences

We moved to a large older house a block away from my grandparents’ haunted house when I was six.  We had two cats, the older of which was afraid to go upstairs.  One morning as my brother and I were playing upstairs he ventured up and sniffed about as a cat will do in unfamiliar surroundings.  We didn’t pay much attention to him until the closet door flew open and the cat, clutching an old purse, came spinning out, about three feet above the floor.  He landed with a thud and fled down the stairs.  He made so much noise that my mother called up to ask what had happened.  Being busy playing we replied that it was nothing; the cat had had a fight with a purse.  It was only later that I began to wonder how he managed to get shut in the closet, not to mention how he launched himself three feet into the air clutching a purse to exit it.  Years later, when he was very old, he came upstairs one night and sat on the foot of my bed.  So far as I could tell, he spent the entire night just sitting there staring into the darkness.  I was glad he was doing it; I felt as my father had about his dog — I was being protected.

I slept in an upstairs bedroom at the front of the house.  Often, especially on Sundays, we would hear clunks from this room when there was no one in it.  Occasionally it would even sound as if an object had fallen to the floor and rolled a short distance.  Upon inspection nothing would ever be out of place.  It was not unusual to awaken in the night and catch motion out of the corner of my eye.  One time I saw a shadow pass in front of the electric heater while another night I awoke to see a luminous sphere about the size of a baseball float slowly over my bed and out the window.  I would have dismissed it to my still being mostly asleep if it had not made a loud “thunk” as it hit the blinds.  One afternoon I was playing football in our front yard with some neighborhood boys and glanced up to see someone lifting up one end of the Venetian blinds in my bedroom to watch us.  The other boys saw it too.  We assumed it was my brother and asked my father to have him come out and join us.  My father replied that my brother wasn’t home.  We objected, saying that he was watching us.  We finally went upstairs to find him but nobody was there.  And once I awakened to observe the closet door open very slowly all by itself (when I was younger I had once seen the rocking chair moving by itself also).

Perhaps both the strangest and the best witnessed oddity of my childhood occurred when the entire family was listening to an old record my brother had found in an attic.  We were all sitting in the living room and as the tone arm lifted up from the record, the last few notes and words of the song were repeated from the far end of the room.  We checked outside to see if anyone was there (the doors and windows had been shut and it was fairly late at night).  We also played the record about a dozen more times, but the phenomenon did not repeat.

Shortly after we married, my wife and I moved into an older house in Albion.  I set up my music studio in the upstairs.  One afternoon I was in the kitchen and heard a loud cymbal crash.  I ran upstairs expecting to find that a bird had somehow gotten in and disoriented, flown into a cymbal.  But I could find nothing what-so-ever out of the ordinary.  Several years later, I was sitting in the studio conversing with a friend.  He was sitting on a stool in front of the cymbals.  I saw a streak of white light behind his head.  It struck a cymbal, producing a loud crash.  I would have dismissed the streak of light to a trick of my vision, but the crash of the cymbal convinced me otherwise.  My friend nearly fell off the stool.

The first summer we lived in the house my wife worked nights as a doughnut maker.  She would arrive home near dawn, just before I would be getting up to go to the farm.  She would often report hearing music as she came in despite the fact that the radio wasn’t on.  One night, when our first child was just a baby, we had him in bed between us to try to get him to sleep.  He awoke just after 2 am and began to fuss.  Before we could do anything, a very quiet voice began to sing Rock-a-bye Baby.  It seemed to be coming from the closet.  My wife and I carefully nudged each other to acknowledge that we heard it.  In about 10 minutes our son went to sleep and the singing stopped.

And once, around that same time, we were having a cookout at the farm, in the same area where my father had had his terrifying experience.  My parents were both there, as were three friends.  We had a cassette player with us, and I played a tape of original material I had recently completed.  After the last song had finished, as strange little voice sang the last three notes from the darkness across the creek.  In all, seven people heard it.  No one was brave enough to wade the creek into the woods to look for whatever had sung to us.  I don’t know what it was, but it did not sound human, yet obviously wasn’t an animal since it could sing.

We now live in my grandparents’ house.  There have been one or two times when I have heard unexplainable sounds, but so far, we haven’t had the sort of experiences that my father and grandparents reported.  Yet on the occasional nights that I am alone in the house, those are among the things I find myself thinking about…